Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Lovely Breakthrough

A look at what went through my head during my MTE (Musical Theater Ensemble) performance final this weekend.

Breathe, just breathe.  It's going to be fine. I wish I'd realize when I signed up for the class that the final was a performance.  I still would have done it of course, I love to perform, but maybe I wouldn't have been so nervous to sing.  Alone.  In front of everyone. God, I wish I could afford voice lessons.  I'd be so much less nervous if I wasn't the only damn person in the class who wasn't taking those, too.  And now it was time to go out on stage: not that it should have been so scary.  I knew everyone out there, knew that if they had an opinion of me for the most part they wished me well.  Knew there were friends in the audience, loveable people who came just to show me their support. I hope none of my friends are out there.  It's going to be so embarrassing when I choke and my voice shakes and I squeak!  

Five minutes until places.  I look in the mirror and double check myself.  Instead of feeling better, I get more nervous.  It's my own face in the mirror, of course, but it looks different.  More mature, I suppose, and strangely composed.  At least it won't show on my face how embarrassed I am. I touch the corner of my eye hesitantly, right where I've winged the eyeliner out softly.  I hope I've done my makeup right.  The neutral eyeshadows, designed to highlight my eyes without being noticeable as "makeup."  I don't want to look like a frosted cupcake. The right shade of "bitten lip" pinkish red, so that my lips don't washout on stage.  If I look good and confident, it should help me sell this thing.  God I hope I don't choke. . . I brush my hair back from my face, noting how different my body feels when I get nervous.  Everything responds so slowly.  My senses are both heightened and muted, like a high definition TV screen with the volume turned way down.  I can smell my own hair as I brush it back: it smells vaguely perfume-y and sweet, from the spray I used when I straightened it.  I like it: like that its foreign, making me seem like a slightly different person.  The person with the similar but more elegant face, there in the mirror.  That person doesn't choke when she has to sing.


Oh God, oh God.  I wish I'd had more time to practice.  Why did we change my song so close to the performance?  I wish I had private voice lessons, then my nervous wouldn't show in my voice.  I'm the only person in my class without them, the only person who is limited to getting help and training from Steve during our vocal sessions.  I hate not having any money.  I hate that I couldn't afford lessons when I was younger.  I've already said and thought all of this, but I can't help it bubbling up inside of me again.

I shrug off my warm blue zip-up, borrowed from a friend.  My brand new dress hugs my body underneath.   I bought it for less than $20 when I was out with Sarah on one of our Adventures: at the time it had sat on the rack, so sexy and daring and elegant all at once.  It was such a pretty cut, and so inexpensive, I had to try it on.  It fit so well. . . Why did I listen when Sarah said how good I looked?  I don't dress like this.  I'm not pretty enough for dresses like this.  Oh my God, it shows off so much of my back.  I hate my back!  Thats stupid.  I've spent a million hours at the gym this semester: my back is finally fit and strong. I check the mirror one last hurried time as a scout from the dressing room - just to make sure it isn't too tight, or too short, or the wrong color, or any other excuse I can find to slip into one of my plain black cap sleeved dresses, nestled safely in my bag.  A security blanket I'm longing to wrap myself up in.  Anything to distract from the fact that I have to sing soon. . .

I walk quietly through the door to the stage behind Tyler.  He throws me a quick smile and I start to calm down a little bit.  It's amazing what a smile will do, a touch of compassion working wonders on a bucket of nerves.  One by one, most of my classmates step onto the stage; I watch them straighten as soon as the hot lights touch their faces, watch nervous eyes and comfortable postures and warm smiles on different people.  They introduce themselves, telling their stories one by one . . .

My parents didn't want me to do this, so I came to school as a Criminal Justice Major.  Then I tried Psychology.  I ended up Arts & Entertainment Management with a focus in performance. . . 

The cutest girl in school asked me to be in a show. . .

I didn't start early, like everyone else.  I'm a late bloomer. . .

My mom told me I had to be potty trained before I could dance.  I stop wearing diapers the next day. . .

If you have a Plan B, you'll use it and I don't want to. . .

I want to do it for my mom. . .

Little polished snippets of themselves: honest and light and charming, endearing snapshots of real people.  Life shined up to sound musical-hopeful.  Thats the thing about performing, even a stupid school final: you're asked to share something, something personal about yourself.  Hand it to the world to do with what they want- and then you gotta smile and sing.

"Some People," from Gypsy

The titular song from "Singing In the Rain,"

"Ten Minutes Ago," from Cinderella

"Shy," From Once Upon a Mattress

"They Say It's Wonderful," from Annie Get Your Gun

"Can't Say No," from Oklahoma!

The audience cheers and screams as my friends go on, giving them support and smiles as they take center stage.  Oh my god, I hope no one screams my name.  They think they're helping but I swear I'll cry.  I hear voices I know, familiar nicknames thrown around, cheers and hollers that tell me right where nearly every person I've ever met at school is sitting.

The last notes of "Singing In the Rain," interrupt my nervous thoughts and now Tyler's coming off stage and those bright hot lights are empty.  My heart rises somewhere up near my throat and my stomach plunges down around my knees.  I set on foot out onstage and my body knows just what to do.  I smile, like this is the easiest thing in the world.  My shoulders drop, and my feet carry me, accompanied by the clicking of my heels and the dull wooshing in my ears, to center stage.  I straddle my mark, just a few feet further up than some of the others stood  Nerves or not, singing or not, this is my audience for the next two minutes, and I am going to claim them - with my firmly planted stance and my smile and the easy way my voice lifts right out of me when I speak.   As soon as I start to tell my story, I know they can easily hear me in the back.  I find comfort in the carefully rehearsed words, the way the audience laugh easily at my joke in the middle.  I hear a familiar chuckle and know Nick is sitting in the front row - though I insisted he didn't come.  Just like Jess a few rows back, and Marissa in the middle, he'd ignored me.

I can do this.  Ignore them.

I introduce my song - "Lovely," from "A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum," music & lyrics by Mr. Stephen Sondheim.  Two facts float throw my head briefly - "Forum was Stephen Sondheim's first full length production" ( three days a week studying the history of musical theater has paid of tragically well) and "Joelle played this role her freshman year.  She's so much better of a singer and sitting right near Ruthie!" I push both thoughts out of my head as Steve plays the intro.

"I'm lovely - all I am is lovely. . ."

My pitch is right.  My voice isn't shaking. I know what to do from here: I can act.  As long as I stay in key and remember to breathe, I'll be fine.

". . . winsome, what I am is winsome. . ."

The first of the higher notes comes and I offer a quick prayer please please please please please

"radiant as in. some. dream. come. truuuuuuuueeeeeee. . . ."

It comes out and suddenly I'm smiling.  The breath support is there, the note is clear and strong, my pitch is perfect.  I realize something, something pretty stupid but pretty important too.  I can do this.  I AM doing this.

And I sing and act my heart out.  There are giggle where it's supposed to be funny.  My pitch stays good, which is my weakest point.  I don't perform perfectly - but it's the very best I've ever done.

Then it's over and I smile, letting myself look past the bright lights to the faces I know, seeing happiness, relief, pleasure on their faces, matching the look on mine.  Sarah and Devon and Julia, Nick and Colin and Ruthie, Aaron and Jess.

I walk back stage, my stomach full of butterflies and ready to cry - from relief, and joy, and plain old nerves.  From an overwhelming sense of having just accomplished something invaluable.

I walk backstage, grinning like an idiot - Tyler's sitting in the green room, a smile so big his face looks like it might split in two.  Sarah K hugs me, and Karly applauds.  They always knew I could do it, of course - they just didn't expect me to.  Neither did I.

But I did.

And I will never, ever choke in an audition again.

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